We are just over 24 hours away from the official start of Wrestlemania season.  As I mentioned on our last episode of OTTB, we are officially entering the WWE’s playoffs. While WWE has had a lot to distract viewers this week – the Enzo Amore drama, Raw 25, the XFL announcement – diehard WWE fans know what time it is, the road to Wrestlemania is about to begin. This year we have a double dose of Rumbles as WWE holds its first women’s Rumble ever. In these last few moments before the actual results we can still dream of big returns, an out of nowhere winner that we actually want (instead of, you know, 2017 Randy Orton), and a new Universal champion (Braun 2018) before the usual mix of disappointment. I’ll give my rundown of the actual top five winners I feel are most likely along with a quick look at their potential Wrestlemania opponents.

Men’s Rumble

Going in to this year’s Rumble there are some standard names and a few new ones in the rumor mill as potential winners.  One rumor seems to indicate that this year’s winner will be a Smackdown superstar, but as with all wrestling rumors, take that with a big grain of salt.  Nonetheless here are the five guys that are at least being considered to win the Rumble.

Roman Reigns

Let’s face it, unless Roman is holding one of the top championships on either brand he has to be considered as a top five candidate every year.  If Roman wins this year his most likely opponent would be Brock Lesnar (given the expectation that Brock is retaining on Sunday night).  This is all fine and good and we know what this would look like as we have been down the Brock-Roman Wrestlemania build road before.  I am going to ask WWE to actually do something different though.  If Roman wins AND if the Universal Title match is the main event of the show, then WWE should throw us a swerve and have Braun actually win the Universal Title.  Let it be shenanigans that leads Brock to his actual Mania match and let us have the glory of the restart of Braun vs Roman over the title at Mania.  WWE has actually done a quietly fine job of rebuilding Roman in the eyes of many fans and they have surely built Braun to a legitimate contender and main event talent.  Why not actually give us a match between two young, talented, over guys as our Mania main event?  I know, this probably isn’t in the cards and if Roman wins we are definitely getting Brock vs Roman II, but hey, a guy can dream. P.S. WWE has just enough balls to have Roman win the Rumble in Philly for a second time.  Never forget…

John Cena

I mentioned on our last episode of OTTB (yes, I know, we need to get another one of those out – next week, hopefully) that John Cena might be a left field option for winning the Rumble to set him up for one last go with Brock Lesnar.  The setup for this is fairly straightforward.  The last time Brock and Cena fought was the birth of suplex city and mostly Brock destroying Cena.  Heyman would get to wax poetic about how Cena is clearly inferior to his client.  That Cena wouldn’t be the guy he is if Brock stayed around. Basically run down the same approach from their last battle with the additional point of how Brock destroyed Cena the last go round.  Cena gets to fight for his 17th world championship against a guy who ran through him in their last set of matches while also having an opportunity to hold the Universal title for at least one run.  Maybe this leads to Roman vs Cena II as the way to even more heavy handedly have Cena pass the torch to Roman in a few months.  Given that Cena and AJ have probably all but exhausted their feud, Brock is definitely the only legitimate option for John Cena as winner of the Rumble. Once again, never forget…

 Shinsuke Nakamura

Since the first rumor started swirling that a Smackdown superstar would likely win this year’s Rumble the odds on favorite was Nakamura.  The path here is obvious – Nakamura vs AJ Styles. There is nothing (other than a Braun 2018 title run) that most smart fans want right now than a Nakamuras vs Styles match at Wrestlemania for the WWE title.  We have been begging for this match ad nauseum since Nak was brought up to the Smackdown Live roster.  We have the memories of their last battle in New Japan and the tease at last year’s Money in the Bank, but a Nak Styles Mania match would be a wet dream come true for most smart fans. There is not a lot to say here because a Nak wins signals what we have all been waiting for.  Unless of course WWE screws it up. But with this as a resource, it should be near impossible, right?

Finn Balor (this should be The Miz)

In a perfect world, (aka in a world where I am trying to find balance in this list) both of these guys would find spots on this list. Ultimately I have to put Finn here because Miz is IC champion and seems to have a path written in pencil already laid out for Mania. If Finn wins there would actually be potential for intrigue if WWE allows the winner the option to choose which title they chase.  Given that Finn beat AJ on ppv last year there could be a legit chance he goes back to that well.  Then again with Finn clamoring for a match with Brock plus the fact that he never lost the Universal title, he would have a pretty good reason to stick with chasing the Raw branded belt. (I’ll cheat and say that if Miz wins he would definitely jump ship to fight AJ after teasing out a Brock match). Holy crap, I think I am underselling how compelling a Finn would could be…

Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, AJ Styles, Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar, Kane

Ok, first off, Kane is not winning anything on Sunday. Secondly, there has to be some consideration for WWE pulling a loser from one of the title matches and making them the winner of the Rumble.  The most likely candidates in this scenario would be Styles, Strowman and Brock. In my mind, the only reasonable candidate out of this crew is Strowman.  I don’t see Styles or Brock losing on Sunday, so that alone presents a challenge. I also don’t think anyone else could make sense as going from loser to winner in this scenario as much as Braun would.  Maybe WWE wants to give the Brock rub to Braun at Mania (unlikely, but still). Using the triple threat as a way to delay Braun’s ascension, he could easily lose that match without being involved in the finish and then tear the Rumble apart and begin the road to Brock vs Braun II at Mania. It is probably one of the first four options though.  Anyone other than Braun from the two title matches may just be met with a monumental…

What do I think?

Putting aside the nagging Smackdown Live winner rumor, I honestly think that Raw has more intriguing options as winners where Smackdown legit only has Shinsuke.  My gut says WWE is gearing up for Brock vs Roman II and there is nothing that can stop it, but my heart wants to say that someone else gets that spot.  At the end of the day, I think either Cena or Roman wins.  Why? Well, I think that Smackdown, as the land of opportunity, has a lot more creative ways to determine their number one contender between the Rumble and Mania.  Raw has already explored the various options for determining a number one contender among their current top tier stars in the last six or seven months.  Smackdown is ripe for an Elimination Chamber match or a tournament or a beat the clock challenge or some other gimmick.  Plus, with Randy Orton (a Smackdown superstar) winning the last Rumble, I doubt WWE would run two Smackdown guys two years in a row.  That might seem to be irrelevant but WWE tends to be mindful of things like that. Once we get to Nak vs Styles at Mania for the WWE title, I’m pretty much fine with almost any reasonable outcome from the Rumble.

The OTTB Guys

Cardo is hoping for a Nakamura win but thinks that Roman Reigns is walking out of Philly as the winner.  In his mind if Nak wins it’s on to AJ Styles and if Reigns wins we’re headed for Brock vs Roman II.

Javon is hoping for a Nakamura win and thinks that Nakamura will actually pull off the big win.  We are all in agreement that a Nakamura win means that we get to have a smart fan title match at Mania between Nak and Styles.

Gals (to borrow a 10YS term) Rumble

I was going to start off by saying that only three women have a legit shot at winning this thing, but then I remembered Becky Lynch and realized that I may have been underselling the potential options here.

Ronda Rousey

I am NOT here for this.  Remember I said that.  Look, I don’t care enough about this to really give Ronda a full path.  More or less if she wins she is fighting Charlotte.  The Raw scene is too crowded and you can’t have three women being presented as unbeatable when each show only has 10 to 12 women active. So, if Rousey signs with WWE, and if she enters the Rumble and if she wins the Rumble she will fight Charlotte at Mania.  There really aren’t two ways about this.  I feel dirty.  I will say this, Ronda Rousey does not deserve to have the honor of first women’s Royal Rumble winner to her name.  Especially not if it is her first match. P.S. just because fans marked out at her Mania appearance a few years back (and the fact that she was wearing an over 9000 shirt) does not mean they will accept this going away. As always, never forget…

Asuka

While Asuka can surely wear the honor of first winner proudly and without backlash, she oddly doesn’t need the accolade or the guaranteed title shot either. As long as she is undefeated a championship opportunity will be waiting her whenever WWE is ready to pull the trigger.  If Asuka does win I imagine that she would fight either Alexa or Nia (or both) at Mania.  Her story now revolves around these two women and some combination of these three will likely be fighting over Raw’s women’s title in April. In case it is Asuka vs Nia though, we could get even more than what we got below…

Nia Jax

Given her dominance (without having held the title), her improvements as of late and her family connections Nia winning the Rumble is not a far stretch. Like Asuka above, her Mania opponent would most likely be one or both of the women she has been revolving around in the last few weeks. I wouldn’t be mad a Nia win.  I actually think she needs something to propel her forward and this might just be it. I mean, she is capable of beatdowns like the one at the end of this video…

Becky Lynch

Fresh off an injury related comeback, Becky Lynch is also a strong consideration in my mind. She has the four horsewomen pedigree.  She has the skills in the ring and developing skills on the mic.  She has the NXT background and a history of solid matches.  She has a natural opponent in Charlotte if she were to win especially if one of these ladies takes a heel turn. Again, while she may not be my first choice, I can buy the logic behind a Becky win. There is also a whole lot of history that can be packed into a one-on-one match between these two.

Wild Card

Ok, so while I remembered Becky as a fourth option, I had a hard time deciding on a legitimate fifth option here.  There is the odd potential of Carmella having two shots at the title in her back pocket if she were to win.  There is no issue with a Sasha Banks win.  But once you get beyond those two ladies, it seems that no one else really strikes me as being legit contenders.  I honestly think if it’s not one of the four ladies mentioned above then it would be a hard curveball by WWE and a wild card winner. A left field winner is always a possible with firsts like these (looking at you Carmella). I was all set to let this wild card section go as is, then I see odds that Stephanie is the front runner in some Vegas casinos to win…

Oh, who is that front and center in yet another Women’s revolution segment…

What do I think?

It doesn’t matter.  WWE is giving this thing to Rousey.  Too much smoke for there not to be fire. They know a large portion of smart fans will rebel against the decision but they will take that in stride for all the publicity they will get from the move (think Batista before Mania 30 and Reigns in 2015). I hate wrestling sometimes.

The OTTB Guys

Ricardo wants Rousey to win and thinks that she will. If she does he likewise sees a showdown with Charlotte in her future.

Javon wants Asuka to win and thinks she would fight Nia if that is the outcome.  He foresees a ROusey victory and a Mania matchup between Rousey and Asuka.

Final Thoughts

All in all, the moments leading up to and during the Royal Rumble are some of the most enjoyable moments because we know mostly nothing about Mania plans other than rumors at this stage.  Basically every possibility is still on the table. There is still the possibility for “Cult of Personality” or “Flight of the Valkyries” to blare out as rumble entrants.  There is still the possibility that Reigns or Rousey don’t win.  Everything is in play.  The Rumble presents the hope that our biggest dreams can come true even though they usually don’t.  Enjoy the anticipation and enjoy those fleeting moments of hope.  In short order we’ll all be bitching about how screwed up the Mania card is as we fall back into being jaded fans.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

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